Malankara World

Church Fathers

St. Basil the Great

by Jacob P Varghese, Sharjah

St. Basil of Caesarea, also called Saint Basil the Great (329-379), was one of the towering giants of ancient Christianity.

Born in a Caesarea, Cappadocia, Turkey, into the wealthy Christian family of Basil the Elder, a famous rhetor, and Emelia. Elder Basil's family was an old Christian family of wealth and distinction, with a remarkable religious history. It was a large household, consisting of ten children, the parents, and Basil's grandmother, Macrina the Elder.

His parents were known for their piety, and his maternal grandfather was a Christian martyr, executed in the years prior to Constantine's conversion. Four of Basil's siblings are known by name, and considered to be saints by various Christian traditions. His older sister Macrina the Younger was a well-known nun. His elder brother Peter served as bishop of Sebaste in Armenia, and wrote a few well-known theological treatises. His brother Naucratius was an anchorite, and inspired much of Basil's theological work. Perhaps the most influential of Basil's siblings was his younger brother Gregory. Gregory of Nyssa was appointed by Basil to be the bishop of Nyssa, and he produced a number of writings defending Nicene theology and describing the life of early Christian monastics. With his life-long friend, Gregory of Nazianzus and his brother Gregory of Nyssa, he makes up the trio known as 'The Three Cappadocians Fathers', far outclassing the other two in practical genius and actual achievement.

St. Basil the Great was one of the most influential of the Greek Fathers of the Church during the 'Golden Age of the Fathers' (4th - 5th Centuries).

For some years, he followed the monastic way of life. He vigorously fought the Arian heresy. He became Archbishop of Caesarea in 370. Monks of the Eastern Church today still follow the monastic rules which he had laid down. His ability to balance his theological convictions with his political connections made Basil a powerful advocate for the Nicene position. He ranks after Athanasius as a defender of the Oriental Church against the heresies of the fourth century.

A good deal of what is known of St. Basil's life is derived from his own letters and sermons, which give a vivid picture of his many-sided character and activities. His rule for monks set the tone for religious life in the East and his treatise on the Holy Spirit laid the groundwork for the clarification of the Holy Spirit's full divinity that was defined by the Council of Constantinople in 381 AD. His Monastic Rule forms to this day the basis of virtually all religious life in the Eastern Churches and the liturgy named after him is one of the principal liturgies of the Eastern Orthodox tradition.

He had a strong practical sympathy with the poor and downtrodden and was merciless towards the enormities of the wealthy. One of his greatest works had been the provision at Caesarea of an estate which included dwelling-houses, a church, a hospital for the sick, a hospice for travelers, a staff of doctors, nurses, and artisans, the whole on such a scale as to be called a new town, called as Basliead.

He passed away in 379 AD, Jan 1.

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